Monday, January 20, 2014
JURIST: Federal judge rules North Carolina abortion ultrasound law is unconstitutional, by Bradley McAllister:
A judge for the US District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina[official website] on Friday ruled [opinion, PDF] that a North Carolina state law requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound procedure is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment rights [LII backgrounder] of physicians and patients. The lawsuit was brought by several North Carolina physicians and health care providers on behalf of themselves and their patients as a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law passed in 2011. The Woman's Right to Know Act [materials] required women to have an ultrasound administered and explained by a medical professional at least four hours before she would be permitted to undergo an abortion. Also, the law mandated that images of the ultrasound be displayed so the woman could view them and a medical professional must offer the woman the opportunity to hear the fetal heart tone. . . .
If the Fourth Circuit affirms this ruling, there will be a Circuit split on the issue. In January 2012, the Fifth Circuit ruled in Texas Medical Providers Performing Abortion Servs. v. Lakey that plaintiffs were unlikely to prevail in their First Amendment challenge to a similar law, vacating a preliminary injunction granted by the district court. On remand, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the state based on the Fifth Circuit's ruling. The Supreme Court declined an opportunity to consider the constitutionality of pre-abortion ultrasound requirements when Oklahoma appealed a state supreme court ruling striking down its law. An affirmance by the Fourth Circuit, paired with the Fifth Circuit's contrary ruling, may prompt the Court to take up the issue.